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Inside Story: US 2012
Will new voter ID laws affect US 2012 result?
As states consider passing voter ID laws we ask if the move will have any impact on who becomes the next US president.
Last Modified: 11 Oct 2012 09:15

Since the year 2000, out of 146 million registered voters, there have been just 10 cases of voter impersonation at the polls, according to News21, an investigative reporting project.

"For some of the politicians this is politically-motivated and they know very well who doesn't have the kind of identification that they're trying to require in order to vote, and that those are groups like African-Americans, Latinos and young people who tend to vote for Democrats."

- Tova Wang, election reform expert

Yet states across the US have been considering fast-tracking laws ahead of this year's election to require voters to produce an identification card before they vote.

On the face of it this seems like a perfectly reasonable requirement.

But studies have repeatedly shown that as many as 22 million registered voters might not be able to cast their ballot as a result. Most of those affected are African-American, Latino and poorer voters.

The most fervent proponents of these laws are usually Republican politicians and groups. They insist they are simply ensuring that elections will be run "fairly and efficiently". They are also pushing for laws that restrict early voting and voter registration campaigns.

However, those who argue that states simply do not have the infrastructure to ensure every valid voter will have an ID in time are having some success.

"[The new voting requirement] actually adds to the confusion. I don't want voters to assume they need this [voter ID]. I hope voters will find out what the laws are in [their] particular state and ensure that [they are] in a position to adhere to them."

- Nicole Austin-Hillery, Brennan Center for Justice

On Wednesday a federal judge ruled that South Carolina's voter ID law cannot be implemented until after the 2012 election.

But concerns remain that many voters without photo ID will still be hesitant to show up at the polls.

So with less than one month to the election, will the new voting laws impact the results?

Joining the discussion with presenter Shihab Rattansi on Inside Story: US 2012 are guests: Tova Wang, the author of The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding Americans' Right to Vote; Nicole Austin-Hillary, the director and counsel of the Brennan Centre for Justice, a public policy institute at New York University law school that focuses on issues involving democracy; and John Fortier, the director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

 "We should be able to say let's make voting more broadly available to people but let's make sure the right people who are eligible to vote can vote … [but] there are [also] a number of problems in the [voting] system which I think are legitimate."

John Fortier, Bipartisan Policy Center


The Brennan Center for Voting Rights tracks laws that affect voting in the US:

  • Restrictive voting laws were introduced in 41 states since the beginning of 2011. As of early October 19 states had passed 25 laws and two executive orders restricting voting. Citizens groups, courts, governors and the US Department of Justice have pushed back against these rules. A total of 14 states have blocked or repealed restrictive laws passed by state legislatures.
  • Another 13 states still have laws on the books that will have an impact in November, with five of these considered battleground states.
  • Florida has passed laws restricting early voting and voter registration drives, in addition to making it more difficult for former felons to restore their voting rights once they have served their time.
  • Virginia now requires a voter ID, although it does not have to include a photo.
  • Wisconsin has restricted voter registration campaigns but a voter ID law was blocked by the State Court.
  • Iowa has made it more difficult for former felons to vote.
  • New Hampshire now has a voter ID law but is allowing a non-photo ID for this election only.
  • There are still questions as to whether the crucial swing state of Ohio will allow voting the weekend before the election, which is traditionally when African-American churches mobilise voters. Republican officials in the state are hoping the US Supreme Court intervenes to prevent it.

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